A Project for Better Journalism chapter
Opinion

Work, work, work

“Thank God it’s Friday.” “Nooo. Tomorrow’s Monday.” “How is the weekend over already?” These are common thoughts after suffering through a long week of work. For some, work is their calling. For others, work is a lamentable obligation. For most, work is too many days and too many hours.

Judging by the Gross Domestic Product, the United States has the largest economy in the world. Many would say it is because we work so hard. However, that hard work becomes a flaw when people are commonly dubbed “workaholics.” Unfortunately, the attitude of American society revolves around working excessively hard.

We all know that our lives are busy. We rush to get to work on time. We rush home to pick up the kids from school. We rush to bed when we finally get home at night, so we can rush all over again tomorrow. “Hey, want to hang out tomorrow?” “No, sorry, I’ve just got too much going on right now.” Everywhere, Americans forgo fun opportunities because they’ve got too much “going on.” That “too much going on” is another way to say too much work.

Spanish teacher Melanie Zwyghuizen substantiates that overworking is an American issue. Zwyghuizen studied abroad in Spain and has since revisited Spain numerous times and traveled to many other places. She asserts that there is a cultural difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world regarding work. She says that, in Spain, if you see a friend walking her dog on the way to work, you are going to stop and chat with that friend even if it means you are five or ten minutes late. You wouldn’t just give a wave as you hurriedly pass by so you can be early and attempt to impress your boss.

Even something simple like talking to a friend is sacrificed by our overworking society. A more relaxed way of life is present in another cultural aspect of Spain: the daily siesta. During the middle of the day, there is an approximate two-hour break from work during which people meet up with friends, catch up on sleep, or get some lunch. The siesta allows people to decompress and do more than just work all day. But don’t start holding your breath for something like a siesta in America. We conduct business at lunch or eat at our desks, if we even eat lunch at all! Due to our work-as-much-as-possible attitude in America, a siesta would be seen as a waste of time or a lost opportunity. In our world where we are always rushing from one place to the next or from one assignment to another, we just can’t stop and appreciate what’s going on around us like the rest of the world can.

The rest of the world has also realized that work isn’t everything. This realization is shown by way of mandatory vacation day policy. Most people would be shocked to know that the United States has a zero mandatory vacation day policy. According to a 2013 article from USA Today and confirmed by other sources, “The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation.” Clearly, we are lagging behind in terms of vacation days. What about all those people working two jobs? They can’t catch a break. What about all those couples who have kids? They can’t catch a break. What about that one mega-stressed person we all have in our lives? He or she just can’t catch a break.

In our society, we simply don’t value a break from work; we feel the need to work all the time. There are high expectations of people working hard and that often means not taking time off. Or, if people take off many days of work at once, it is frowned upon and believed that they don’t take their job seriously.

For example, my father, Wil Davis, is a pediatrician in rural Michigan. This year, we were fortunate enough to take an eighteen-day vacation to visit my brother in China. He took eleven days off of work. Whenever we told people about our vacation, they were astonished by how long it was going to be. Some people even asked “How in the world did he get that much time off?” or they said critically, “Must be pretty rich to be able to take that much time off.” As my mother says, “People are just floored that we would take off two weeks of work at once.” Judging by people’s reactions to our trip, my family is among few families who take longer vacations. Eleven days off is nothing compared to the guaranteed four weeks off in the European Union!

Vacations are a break. Vacations are a time to spend that money you’ve worked so hard to earn. Vacations are a time to regroup, refresh, and think about something else. Vacations are, in my opinion, the best part of the year. Vacations are everlasting memories. Vacations are much-needed family time. Our attitude toward work creates the idea that work is more important than vacation time and all its benefits. Our society regrettably prioritizes work over families and mental health.

Some Americans are so involved in their work that they are called workaholics; they are addicted to their work. I know one of these work addicts. She is my neighbor, whom we are going to call Jannet. Jannet is the mother of my two good friends with whom I have grown up. When we go out to dinner, Jannet is on her phone sending work emails. When we play dominoes, she talks to her husband about work. She works from 7:30 AM to when her kids ask for dinner. The “vacations” her family takes always entail going somewhere for her work.

As the influential writer, Thomas Carlyle, said, “Know what thou canst work at; and work at it, like a Hercules!” Jannet really takes the working “like a Hercules” to heart. She puts everything she’s got into her work and doesn’t stop.

The analogy of working like Hercules doesn’t only apply to Jannet, however. Americans are working ridiculous hours. Affluent administrators are working dozens of extra hours on their salary pay while impoverished laborers work hours in multiple jobs to make ends meet. Time writer Claudia Wallis states “The U.S. work week… for those in financial services, it’s 55 hours; for top executives in big corporations, it’s 60 to 70, says Catalyst, a research and consulting group.” People are paid to work 35 to 40 hours but often expected to work 60 to 70. This workaholic society we live in is not benefiting us. Couples are separated because they don’t see each other enough. Kids are left to be raised by nannies. People don’t get to enjoy the better parts of life because they are too busy working.

Why are we working so hard? Why are we generating poor interpersonal relationships? Why are we developing immense stress? The answer: our workaholic attitudes. Should we perpetuate this nose to the grindstone mentality, our societal well being will suffer. Divorce rates will continue to be sky high while people’s mental health will plummet. So try not to work like a Hercules and instead take a vacation once in a while; you’ve earned it.

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